Kick the can

Fact-checking the opposition to the Sugary Beverage Tax reveals misleading claims

Nick Panagopoulos from BMWL holds an award the firm won for defeating Richmond's proposed sugary beverage tax.

At least 720 San Francisco businesses oppose the controversial Sugary Beverage Tax proposed for the November ballot, according to the proposed ballot measure's opponents. But a Guardian investigation shows that claim is overstated.

Some businesses were listed with the consent of employees who couldn't speak for the business, not their owners, and some businesses listed aren't even open anymore.

The measure is opposed by Unfair Beverage Taxes: Coalition for an Affordable City, which is funded by the American Beverage Association and fronted by public relations firm BMWL and Partners. They have been trying to enlist allies from local restaurants and liquor stores, trying to show the community is against the Sugary Beverage Tax.

The ABA is funded primarily by Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, and they certainly have cause to worry about a measure that aims to reduce consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks to help curb obesity, using a 2 cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages sold in San Francisco.

The resolution to place the measure on the fall ballot is sponsored by Sups. Scott Wiener, Eric Mar, Malia Cohen, John Avalos, and David Chiu.

The estimated $31 million in taxes collected would go to the SFUSD to fund physical education for kids and active and healthy living programs in the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the Department of Public Health.

We called over 70 of the businesses on the list of opposition to the tax in San Francisco. Not all of the businesses responded to our calls, nor were owners easily available, and some of the businesses listed did not have English-speaking staff available to talk.

Update 2/26: Want to see the list for yourself? Click here for the PDF of the opposition list to the Sugary Beverage Tax sent to us by Affordable City. 

But about 20 of the businesses did respond, and what they told us calls into question the veracity of the opposition list.

Mohammed Iqbal, owner of All Nite Pizza on Third Street, said he only learned about the Sugary Beverage Tax only after we called. Following up later, he said he found that one of his employees signed onto the list.

records"We're not really sure about the tax, we'd rather stay out of it," Iqbal told us.

Swanky coffee and wine bar Ma'Velous, a spot popular with City Hall politicos, was also on the list. The owner's wife, Lean Chow, told us opposition canvassers presented the tax in a one-sided way, and she wasn't told her signature would place the business onto an opposition list.

"We didn't get the full details," she told us in a phone interview. "We also didn't know the taxes would go towards education." Her husband owns the coffee bar, and she said they are both fully in support of the beverage tax.

Noe's Bar and the formerly co-owned Basso's restaurant are also on the opposition list, but both businesses are permanently closed, according to their Yelp listings and county business data, which we confirmed with phone calls.

Most of the store owners we talked to who did confirm they were on the opposition list said they were not told the funding would go to schools, activities in parks, or public health. Some said they were actively misinformed.

Aijez Ghani, the owner of the restaurant Alhamra, told us, "The one gentleman come, and he say in favor or against? I said in favor."

When we asked him if he knew he was on the opposition list, Ghani said, "I think it was a mistake. But I am totally in favor of the tax, 100 percent. They're going to spend money on the schools, the health of kids, and health is more important than business."


I spoke to the Noe Valley Merchant Association about the Coalition For An Affordable City's (AKA: The American Beverage Association) "false" list.

I discovered that 3 Noe Valley merchants had "no idea how I ended up on the list."

An additional 2 merchants were never told that the tax is estimated to raise $31 million for SF's children by funding public schools, rec and park programs, and nutrition programs. And those two merchants now SUPPORT the tax, not oppose it!

Finally, an additional 2 stores on "false" list have been closed for approximately 2 months.

That is a total of seven stores in 3-4 blocks falsely on Big Soda's list.

Go check with your local merchant association to find out the truth about businesses in your neighborhood.

Posted by Noe Valley Dweller on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 5:57 am

I'd love to see what businesses in my neighborhood are on this list, where can I see it?

Posted by Colin on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 10:26 am

The only misinformation spread in this campaign has been coming from Supervisor Wiener, the beverage tax sponsor himself. He repeatedly states during his presentations on the tax that it doesn't affect local grocers, restaurants and other retail businesses. He says this knowing full well that it is untrue.

As anyone who takes the time to read the legislation itself or its official legislative summary will discover, every business along the supply chain of sugar-sweetened beverage sales in San Francisco is responsible for making sure the tax is paid on every covered beverage that enters or is produced in the city for sale. And then it is up to the last person in the supply chain--the retail business--to figure out how to pass along the added costs associated with tax to their customers.

This is why local businesses are signing up in droves to oppose the tax. And it is why the beverage tax is a regressive measure that would raise operating costs for local businesses and increase grocery and restaurants prices for San Franciscans--whether they drink soda, other sugar-sweetened beverages, or not.

Posted by Chuck Finnie, spokesman for Coalition for an Affordable City on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

We need a city full of people who can pay their own way.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 1:25 pm

We DO need a coalition for an affordable city! But we need it to fight for affordable housing and better schools. Fighting to keep soda cheap is just that. People need affordable housing and good public education. You should spend those Pepsi millions to fight for that and stop trying to use the credibility of the people who are really fighting to keep low-income families and African Americans in SF!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

It's a rich enclave at the center of a much larger and more affordable urban area which can house the workers we need in SF.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

If you really want an "affordable SF" you'd use those soda industry millions to advocate for affordable housing, not affordable soda. Since when has Chuck Finney fought for the interests of San Francisco's poor? You want to help our family have a lower grocery bill, fight for cheaper produce in my community!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

We need the poor to make an effort to fight for themselves through self-improvement, hard work, smart choices and risk-taking - the American way.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 3:25 pm

I was wondering when the paid shills from the American Beverage Association were going to show up and attack "anyone they can" for exposing their false list.

There is a certain irony that Chuck Finney, a former investigative journalist is attacking the investigative journalism of the SFBG.

Chuck Finnie is VP at political consultancy firm BMWL

BMWL is the paid political consultant of the American Beverage Association (ABA). The Coalition For an Affordable City is a front for the ABA.

If you want to check out the list for yourself, contact BMWL and ask for the list. Here is BMWL's website

Posted by Noe Valley Dweller on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

I, for one, believe that San Franciscans are smarter than Chuck thinks. Why would anyone believe anything that a paid public relations firm says without confirming on their own?

Kudos to SFBG and Joe for some quality journalism in exposing Big Soda's misleading tactics. Shameful.

Posted by Jessica in SF on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

Only the other side is dumb and manipulated into believing slogans and buzz words.

Posted by guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 7:53 pm

Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out much.
I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

Posted by losing weight on May. 30, 2014 @ 11:56 am

Where do we draw the line? Does the snack tax of the 90s ring a bell? It all comes down to education. As an educator, using a tax to curb consumption is basically saying that parents and teachers are not doing their job of educating their children and students. I am positive that every adult knows that too much sugar is unhealthy. I taught the food pyramid and health education is a requirement to graduate high school in SFUSD. It is up to the people to make their own decisions. We blame sugar for causing obesity when it is really our own actions. Money towards education is a good thing. But a regressive tax is not. We are basically taking money from people that cannot afford a regressive tax to teach them to eat better? How can they eat better, when they cannot afford to eat better because of all these taxes? The people that support this are also in the same boat of banning water bottles. I hate it when politicians use education and children to pass taxes. They use that for the lottery and they will sure use it for everything else. Tell me what you want me to do Big Brother San Francisco.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

"How can they eat better, when they cannot afford to eat better because of all these taxes?"

This is a tax on sugary drinks, not fruits and vegetables! When you education is the answer, you are blaming parents for just not knowing enough. The food pyramid doesn't tell you that one can of coke has more added sugar in it then the American Heart Association thinks you should have in a whole day. The only reason I know this is because I work in public health. Most of my colleagues in public health don't even know this information; it IS NOT common knowledge. The soda industry isn't going to pay for that education they say is the solution--- unless we tax their product. I am willing to pay a little more (when I break down and just need it) if it means better parks and PE for the kids.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

Bottom line, for each business this article mentions we have a signed form giving our coalition permission to list it as opposing the beverage tax.

I apologize for any confusion, however the business wouldn't be on the list without a signed form from a person who told us they were authorized to sign it. All of our campaign organizers are instructed to ask the person they speak with if they are the owner or a manager that is authorized to sign on behalf of the business and the form clearly states that by signing it they are giving permission to list them as a public opponent of the tax.

We have no interest in misleading people as this article suggests. The reporter admits he saw forms for all the businesses he mentions and yet still chose to level unfounded accusations. If a business appears on our list and has changed their mind since signing the form we're happy to remove it. We have identified a handful of mistakes and fixed them immediately on our own as the reporter points out.

We're proud that more that 850 small businesses have joined our coalition so far to oppose unfair and regressive beverage taxes that do nothing except take money out of the pockets of those that can least afford it. We'll continue to organize in the community to build grassroots opposition to this tax and work hard to defeat it in November.

Posted by Nick Panagopoulos, Coalition for An Affordable City on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

I signed up on your website on January 31st to get more information about this issue; not to be a supporter. I was never sent any information. I'm guessing you used my name on your list of "supporters", or at least was until I made this comment.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

There is no story here- sorry but this article sucks.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

The issue of childhood obesity does not lie within a lack of education but rather due to our own vices; it is no secret that sugary beverages contribute to obesity. The solution therefore is not a demeaning tax that assumes individuals cannot make decisions for themselves. Historically, beverage taxes target minority communities and hurt small businesses. As a woman of color the bay area, I am offended by the tax and stand by BMWL for protecting the financial stability of the city.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

Absolutely agree!
Misuse and misappropriation of taxes currently collected is the overall problem.

Beverage tax is the stupidest thing our city could do.

1. it assumes individuals are not responsible for what they eat/drink.
2. It moves government into regulating something that crosses into our personal lives.
3. Money better spent on fixing the potholes in the streets, providing healthier school lunches (have you seen them? filled with salt & grease);
4. what's the cost of administering this tax?
5. where does it stop? tax candy, cakes, pies?
6. what is defined as "soda"? If it is the sugar content, then "frappacino's", lemonade and sugared iced tea would qualify.

Ridiculous -- do they think 2 cents would discourage anyone who wanted to buy a soda?

Agree! Agree. How something this stupid could have received 5 supervisor's support -- I'm going to remember which one's supported this and NOT vote for them the next time.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

"...assumes individuals cannot make decisions for themselves."

hmm, strident post does not make for empirical truth.

(The simplest explanation tends to be the truth.)

Posted by gosoft on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

This is unfair and the fight is not going to be easy. There are enough taxes we pay now for being a small business owner

Posted by Current business owner on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

i know for a fact that are many people opposed to this tax. also if your so worried about kids and their consumption why are you only going after soda. go after everything sugar. i mean last time i checked kids eat candy. what about cereal? last time i checked it had plenty of sugar. your fighting obesity that is great, tax all the snacks you can. that is all bad. it rots your teeth and has plenty of ingredients to make a kid obese. yet nothing wrong with that. if soda is so bad why not just ban, why raise the price and make it harder for people to afford? simple because they know damn well people will still buy it. the article itself says the city will get 31 million dollars extra so it can go straight to the pockets of the higher ups. this city has always been screwing over their citizens. whats changed now? use your brains people. its not about the soda clearly. its just another way for the city to keep taking money from the people, at the same time hurting small businesses.

Posted by Zuhdi on Feb. 27, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

The reason this tax is only on sugary drinks is because the politicians consulted expert researchers in developing this policy. According to the research into US sugar consumption, candy is less than 10% our average consumption of added sugar, but sugary drinks alone are about half of all the added sugar we consume. This is a "special tax", meaning it can't go into the general fund to get spent on other things. It HAS TO BE SPENT on PE and nutrition in the schools, Parks and Rec, and Department of Public Health education and nutrition programs. That also means it has to get 66% of voter approval. They could have gone for just 50% of the vote and then the money would go into the general fund to spend on whatever they wanted. When this tax passes, it can only be spent on those things, not the "higher ups", as you say.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

Why stop there? Tax the sugary treats sold by panaderias, tax your favorite local ice cream shop.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2014 @ 9:10 am

Once again an employee of BMWL, the American Beverage Association's paid political consultants, does not identify himself as a Director of BMWL.

Nick Panagopoulos works for BMWL and is a paid shill for the Coalition For An Affordable City (The fake "Astro Turf" group for Big Soda).

I love that he is now claiming 850 small businesses oppose the tax. . . the bigger the lie, the easier it is to spin.

San Francisco voters are sophisticated and have always supported our City's children. There is no way we oppose a measure that will fund our public schools, rec and park programs, and deliver healthy food options to traditional food deserts.

Big Soda is getting nervous and for good reason. San Franciscans aren't buying the lies and deception Big Soda is selling.

Posted by Noe Valley Dweller on Feb. 28, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

Doesn't matter who's supporting it -- it's a stupid idea by itself.

why just soda? what's next? candy? mints? birthday cakes? iced tea?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

More"progressives" tilting at windmills.....

Posted by TrollKiller on Mar. 02, 2014 @ 7:37 am

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